Dec 10 2009
As probably everyone has heard by now, the Swiss sovereign voted by about 57% of the popular vote and the assent of 22 of the 26 full and half-cantons (States) to write into our Constitution that the construction of new minarets is banned, and this despite opposition to this People’s Party-supported initiative from the government, from parliament, from all parties (except the People’s Party and the fringe Protestant Democratic Party), the unions, the churches, industry, banking – pretty much every establishmentarian institution.
I’m not happy about the ban – it was a pointless affront to a section of our population. Swiss zoning laws are arbitrary and byzantine enough to stop virtually anything if the local population put their mind to it, so the ban was not necessary. True, a minaret is not essential for a mosque, but it’s only the conservative fringe like the Wahhabis who are actually opposed to it. The call of the muezzin is banned anyway (not consistent with noise regulations- and it would be drowned out by church bells).
The vote was in some elements misdirected, but in others it spoke to legitimate concerns. Popular votes are a rum thing, and you’re only given the option of voting “yes” or “no”, there is no possibility of a nuanced response. But I certainly don’t think it is any “crisis of democracy”, or “failure” of anything except the failure of the political elites to deal with the issues that led to the “yes” vote.
May 28 2009
This essay is partly in response to Something The Dog Said’s essay on military commissions – I did not want to hijack the discussion there.
I am both a lawyer with a bit of training in international law and an officer of our armed forces (Switzerland, depository nation of the Geneva Conventions), which colours my view in this matter.
First off, I do not see anything intrinsically wrong with military commissions; the questions I have is:
– What is the objective?
– Who will come before the military commissions?
– Why bother?
May 21 2009
The current issue of the German news magazine Der Spiegel takes the extradition of the Ukrainian concentration camp guard John (formerly Ivan) Demyanyuk from the US to face trial in Germany as an occasion to look at the support the Nazi holocaust policy received in their occupied territories (in English).
The article is at pains to not deflect from the fact that the Holocaust was a policy invented by Germany and Germans and implemented by Germany and Germans – but there can also be no doubt that, without active help from institutions and inhabitants of the occupied territories, the Holocaust’s breadth, scope and sheer efficiency would have been much diminished.